The Comics Journal features an interview of Benjamin Marra, conducted by Matt Seneca. You go and you read that here.
Okay great. Thanks for coming back, that was a long one.
I like Benjamin, he’s a friendly, personable guy with a deep knowledge and love of comic books. He’a a few years older than I am so his tastes are an earlier equivalent to what my tastes in mainstream comic books were. His influences are easy to trace and he wears them on his sleeve.
I’ve talked with him. Here we all are:
Matt Seneca, Darryl Ayo (that’s me), Jonny Negron, Michael DeForge, Frank Santoro, Benjamin Marra, Lala Albert, Aiden Koch.
Very important to convey the precarious nature of who I am and where I stand in reality. I have written this several times. And deleted it most of those times. I shouldn’t have to do this. But I’ve waited patiently an nobody else will step up to the plate.
So once again it’s on me to explain to y’all white folks what it is
Benjamin Marra is a satirical cartoonist, an ironic cartoonist. Not in a specific sense but in how he appropriates a certain period of Americana in his work. Appropriates and ramps it up. His drawings, subject matter and writing style are products of a certain kind of 1980s American comic book. His subject matter also reaches out into the 1970s pop culture and subcultures. Two that he mines frequently are sexploitation and blaxploitation. I have feelings about the sexploitation aspect of this kind of work (and I intend to speak at length about sex in comics one day) but what rarely gets talked about is racism and racial fetishism and exploitation.
It is very self-serving and I’ll go as far to say callous about playing in the sandbox of people whose degradation and oppression you do not share. Not writing about black characters or exploring the pain of black people but rather exoticizing the struggle, the pain, the humiliations, the inhumanity of the road to freedom.
Marra works in the domain of 1970s blaxploitation films but he lacks something: black people. When you watch a blaxploitation film, even if the filmmaker is white, you are seeing black people. Black performers whose frustrations are laid bare on the screen, even though the plots and dialogue were themselves exploitative. The presence of black actors made it real. “Actors,” meaning “independent agents,” not the profession. There are no black actors in a book such as “Lincoln Washington.”
I knew what I was setting myself up for when I bought and read “Lincoln Washington.” But somehow I didn’t believe. I didn’t want to think about how savage and brutal and soul destroying it would be. I didn’t expect to like it but I wanted to learn about what this Ben Marra fellow was about. Well now I know.
I could be way off base, but the emotion that I feel about “Lincoln Washington” might be similar to how many (not “all”) women feel about rape-revenge stories: this isn’t your story to tell.
It’s the way I feel. Spotlight on, all eyes looking, my cultural history paraded around to make an “awesome comic,” insults, rapes, whipping, murder, all for the vicarious benefit of destroying the “bad white people” so that the audience (“good white people”) can have a cathartic release and feel good about themselves. I’m not like those people. I’m on the side of the superhuman negro who punched those white folks’ heads clean off. Those were bad white people. Not like me. I rooted for the good guy.
When I finished reading “Lincoln Washington,” I was physically shaking, gritting my teeth trying to calm my nausea. This isn’t fun. This isn’t “radical,” this isn’t “awesome,” this isn’t a game. This is a brutal reality that a lot of you couldn’t possibly relate to or understand, emotionally.
This isn’t a black person’s fantasy, it is a white person’s fantasy. The ability to get on the correct side of history. The ability to both taste the lurid pleasure of breaking a human down and then switch sides and share in the vicarious thrill of revenge. Lincoln Washington doesn’t exist. He is Benjamin Marra’s own id. He isn’t real in any sense of the word.
Better to talk to would be my mother, an enthusiastic reader of the post-slavery period called “Reconstruction.” The heroism of the era wasn’t vigilante, beastlike super-blacks. The heroism was in the the way blacks rushed to assume political offices, attend law schools, work on a systemic level to bring America from a barbaric state into the beginnings of a humane state. This was before blacks lost many of their public rights such as voting.
There isn’t much to say. People are going to do what they’re going to do. Benjamin Marra is going to make whatever comics he feels like making and I’m not trying to stop him. You are going to read whatever comic books you want to read and I won’t try to convince you otherwise. I really believe that: “you should read whatever you want to.”
But with works like these, please be aware of what you’re getting into.